What is telecommunication?
The Department of Telecommunication,
Michigan State University
What is telecommunication? Although a considerable number of studies have been actually conducted on telecommunication, I have never had academic opportunity to examine what it is. While the word etelecommunicationf has been brought to public attention, how many of us can exactly define it? How many of us can explain it in cultural context as well as in technological context? In my opinion, the word etelecommunicationf seems to be going forward itself so that our consciousness cannot catch up with it. As a new graduate student of the department of telecommunication, I hope to comprehensively understand what telecommunication is, and organize present issues systematically through this article. According to the requirement, this article consists of the following: areas and issues in telecommunication; key questions that telecommunication tries to answer; methods for studying, researching, and creating in telecommunication; and my learning and career goals for my telecommunication MA.
What is telecommunication?
In order to answer a kind of vague question such as what telecommunication is, I would like to focus on the areas in telecommunication in the beginning. Carne (1995) proposed the following:
Telecommunication means communication from afar; it is the action of communicating-at-distance. In the broadest sense, it can include several ways of communicating (letters, telegraphs, telephone, etc); however, it is customary to associate it only with electronic communication systems such as telephone, data communication, radio, and television. (p.5)
From this viewpoint, one may say that telecommunication is literally one of the ways of communication to receive or send massages. The question I have to ask here is what communication is. We unconsciously use the word ecommunicationf in a daily life. Then, how can we define communication, whose categories seem to range widely? In 1985 Charp and Hines described communication as the method by which we exchange sounds, signals, pictures and languages between people and places (p.13). From this definition, I realize that discussion in a class, conversation with someone by phone, writing a letter, reading a newspaper, and watching television are all grouped into the same category named communication because we exchange something with somebody by them.
The question is what differentiates one communication from the other at more detailed categories. The first thing I notice is that the way of communication is different from each other: in some cases, communication from one to many or many to many, in the others, however, communication in person. In addition, it seems to depend on whether it is mediated or not. Another illustration of the point is the definition of mass communication, possibly the most familiar way of communication to us. Mass communication is usually defined as one-to-many or point-to-multipoint communication, in which a single message is communicated from a single source to hundreds or thousands of receivers, with relatively restricted opportunities for the audience to communicate back to the source (Straubhaar & LaRose, 1997, p.11). Before examining the definition of mass communication, I would like to focus on another important point included in this passage: what we exchange in communication is message. Elsewhere in their article, they defined the message as the content of the communication, the information that is to be exchanged (p.7). Accordingly, the passages by them reveal that the purpose of communication is to exchange information. Let me now return to mass communication again. Sending information to a large number of viewers, television generally belongs to a group of mass communication, as do newspapers. This is the reason why television and newspapers are called the mass media. Compared to them, information is not sent to many receivers by telephone. This means that telephone is not categorized as one of the mass media. However, strict distinction between mass communication and telecommunication seems to be difficult. According to Carne (1995), telecommunication in which information flows simultaneously from a single (transmitting) site to a large number of (receiving) sites is known as mass communication (p.6). Telecommunication has a wide application, and mass communication belongs to telecommunication by definition.
Rather, from the passage by Carne, I should emphasize a couple of notable features of telecommunication. One is that information flows simultaneously in telecommunication. Another important point is that telecommunication includes other kind of communication than for one-to-many communication, which is known as mass communication; it could be one-to-one, personal communication such as a telephone call or an electronic mail. Then, what makes simultaneity or personal communication possible? With this issue in mind, I will again take a look at the definition of telecommunication that I cited earlier. gIt is customary to associate it telecommunication only with electronic communication systems such as telephone, data communication, radio, and television,h said Carne (1995, p.5). All electronic communication systems mentioned above have networks with which they provide information. A network is a group of switches, terminal equipment, software and peripheral hardware interconnected with communications channels that are used to establish connections among the network users (Charp and Hines, 1985, Glossary). It follows from what has been said thus far that telecommunication is to exchange einformationf by etechnologyf symbolized by a network.
The fact that both information and technology are essential for telecommunication is a very important point because they are thought to be valuable in contemporary life, and, therefore, telecommunications industry is enjoying prosperity. Valance (1993) depicted the industry vividly:
In the last few years, the telecommunications industry has begun to merge with the communications service sector which, in turn, has converged with information service and entertainment service to produce the hydra-headed information technology or IT industry. An exciting combination of customer demand, increasing competition and advancing technology has created a fast-moving industry, which is constantly transforming itself in the development of new areas of business. (p.1)
In fact, the telecommunication industry has been prosperous for the past eight years. Statistical Abstract of the United States (2000) reported that gross domestic income in information technologies industries has grown by 119.6%, from $ 371,080 million in 1992 to $ 814,727 million in 2000. Consequently, percent share of the economy has increased from 5.9% to 8.3%. For people working in the industry, telecommunication might be a synonym for lucrative business.
Economic boom obviously accelerates technical innovations more and more. Dizard (1997) divided the media into two groups, old media and new media.
A partial list of the latter includes multimedia computers, CD-ROM laser disks, advanced facsimile machines, handheld data banks, electronic books, videotext networks, intelligent phones, and direct-to-home broadcasting satellitesc. Their most significant innovation, however, is the distribution of voice, video, and print products on a common electronic channel, often in two-way interactive formats that give consumers more control over what services they receive, when they get them, and in what form. (p.4)
If I regard the new media as ones for telecommunication, what is especially important seems that they provide two-way interactivity. Consider television, for example, showing that the interactivity enables media to be more personally-oriented. Hanson (1994) suggested, hMost thought that interactive technology would best facilitate childrenfs programmingc. Another purpose of the interactive system was to offer home viewers a variety of films to choose from. In many ways, this service is similar to videotex, subscription TV, or pay-per-viewh (p.212). Actually, not only has the interactivity been spread, but it has also been evolving. According to the issue of Broadcasting and Cable noted by Schlosser (2000), Fox sports will let viewers use set-tops to select camera angles on sports events. While I feared that a director would not be required anymore, this is an interesting article showing that the possibility of broadcasting is evolving with the consequence of new technology such as interactive service.
Now that I have showed the outline of telecommunication, I may proceed to key question that telecommunication tries to answer. Gates (1995) stated, gInformation technology is not a panacea. This disappoints people who demand to know how PCs and the Internet will solve all human problemsh (P10). After all, the computer is nothing but a tool for me. Generally, we use tools, for example, a pencil to write something or a camera to take a picture of something. Accordingly, the computer should be used to do something, too. Of course, the computer itself cannot cure a serious disease. We, however, can get some hints to cure it efficiently with the computer; the World Wide Web would surely provide us the information about doctors, medicine, and hospitals. The better we use tools, the better our lives become. This common pattern would naturally be applied to the tools for telecommunication such as the computer, the telephone or television. Then, what differentiates them from others such as a car or a desk? The difference is that the tools for telecommunication are closely connected with information, which is considered by many people as the most important thing today, as I mentioned above. Certainly, there is a flood of terms such as the Information Society or the Information Age. In such society, people will always tend to get some information more or less. Given that this situation continues for the time being, a key question that telecommunication try to answer is supposed to be whether or not it enables a large number of people to access information easily, speedy, equally, and inexpensively, with the progress of technology, infrastructure, and service. In other words, it is whether or not the evolution of telecommunication makes it possible that information would be a utility for us such as water, electricity, or gas. They are certainly required not only in daily life, but also in emergency. Under disaster, information through television, radio, telephone and the Internet is regarded as one of the lifelines.
I will, in turn, discuss issues in telecommunication. Information goes over the borders. A lot of telecommunication organizations such as AT&T, CNN, Sony and so on, therefore, are pushing the global strategy forward. This fact, however, seems to cause a new issue in telecommunication. Kim Dae-Jung, president of the republic of Korea, noted in the special contribution to Human Development Report 2001, gEnhancement of information capabilities can bring affluence to us by increasing efficiency. But it is also widening the digital divide between the information haves and have-notsh (p.24). Although the evolution of telecommunication, such as the Internet or satellite broadcasting, enables us to communicate on global scale, the access to information is limited to people who can afford to have the latest technologies. Straubhaar & LaRose (1997) pointed out this problem, too.
In some countries, only some bureaucrats and a few of the wealthiest professionals and businesses can afford access to computers. In fact, many experts fear that relatively low access to computers will keep businesses and professionals in developing countries from competing in a globalized market where others have a sophisticated computer infrastructure to work with. (p.121)
This kind of inequality, a gap between the information haves and have-nots is also seen in the domestic scale. In the earlier sentence, I noted key question that telecommunication try to answer is whether or not the evolution of telecommunication makes it possible that information would be a utility for us such as water, electricity, or gas. As the first step in my analysis to the question, I will take up guniversal serviceh. Straubhaar & LaRose (1997) explained, hUniversal service is the idea that everyone should have access to basic telecommunications services. The policy has long been a central one in telephone industry regulation, where it has succeeded in bringing telephone service to all but 5 percent of American homesh (p.254). As a result, almost all the residents in the U.S. recognize telephone service as a kind of utility. They make phone calls as easily as they use water, electricity, or gas. The question is whether or not the concept of universal service can be expanded to include other kinds of service, such as the computer. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially made it clear that every effort would be made to ensure access to telecommunications services for low-income consumers and those who live in rural, high-cost areas (Schwartz, 1997, p.75). In order to achieve this, the FCC is encouraging new enterprises to enter into the telephone industry by deregulations, because it would create new competition that might result in making advanced universal service possible. However, even if the network for advanced universal service were possible and cheaper, another important problem would arise: access to equipment could be the ramification of widening the information gap between information haves and have-nots in the new information age. Until recently, users have had terminals such as plain old telephone sets, installed easily. But now users have to buy new terminals by themselves for new services. Are the terminals such as personal computers or modems available for everyone? I am afraid that a lot of residents cannot yet afford to buy them. Actually, only 7.9% of households who graduated only elementary schools have computers at their homes, while 68.3% of college graduates do. Among households whose income is less than $5,000, only 15.9% have computers, although 79.9% of those whose income is more than $75,000 have them (Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2000, p.569). Economist Robert Reich has underscored the impact that the information gap has on achieved U.S. society; gNo longer are Americans rising or falling together, as if in one large boat. We are, increasingly, in different, smaller boatsh (Dizard, 1997, p.206).
Next, I would like to consider another issue. There seems a flood of arguments about references to sex or violence in the media. On one hand, among the media, sensationalism such as sex scenes or violence is surely thought to attract many viewers, and bring more advertising revenue accordingly. Apart from their intention, producers might insist that the freedom of expression should be guaranteed. On the other hand, sexual or violent depictions are generally regarded as unsuitable for kids or teens, educationally and morally. For this reason, the regulation of such content is imposed on the media. For example, in 1996 Congress passed a law requiring V-chip to permit television viewers to block out programs rated to have sex or violence (Straubhaar & LaRose, 1997, p.97). Consequently, those kinds of programs are being broadcast under the principle that kidsf eyes would not reach it. Media is swaying between the two contradictory values, and V-chip looks like a compromised proposal for both lawmakers and broadcasters.
The Internet or adult entertainment telephone services has relatively new problem peculiar to them. Straubhaar & LaRose (1997) reported:
The Internet is incredibly diverse and anarchic. The number of gsourcesh is in the millions, and no one is really gin chargeh of the network. The users of the network are also the gpublishers,h but they do not have to subscribe to any code of professional journalistic ethics, and in any event the authors of the most offensive forms of content have ways to glaunderh the information so that it cannot be traced back to them. (p.337)
Actually, we can access Web sites containing pornography easily. Even if the sites warn that person under twenty-one years are not allowed to enter, they can easily browse the sites, by just clicking eenterf. There is, at the moment, nothing like V-chip or ID check on the Web. Apparently, the Webmasters should be responsible for the content in this situation. However, no matter how strictly the content is regulated, they can easily get around a surveillance network because they are anonymous. This kind of mess has seldom happened in the media history. The mass media have often been blamed for the content, and exposed to censorship. However, traditional media have dignity that competes with pressure from outside. Byline articles or reports are regarded as manifestation of their responsibility and confidence to the content. On the contrary, in the Internet reality, we sometimes seem to forget the principle of the media that the freedom of expression is not admitted until we can take the responsibility for the content.
I will now discuss methods for studying, researching, and creating in telecommunication. In Japan, telecommunication study tends to be categorized as one in the field of science or electronics. It is, therefore, said that the knowledge of programming, differentiation, and integration are required to conduct research. In the U.S., on the other hand, telecommunication study seems to cover wide range of academic fields so that it enables various approaches from such field as management, economics, law, sociology, art, and science. This is terrific because I can adopt the best way that meets my need. At the same time, taking advantage of this diversity, I should also link one to another in study. For example, given that I am interested in international telecommunication, what I have to do for research is supposed to be extensive: global strategy, international law, cultural context, and technology. This clearly shows that the most effective way to study is to consider subjects plurally, not unilaterally. In addition, there is another important thing: to experience by myself. This, in particular, applies to telecommunication study because telecommunication usually has to do with the latest technology. Although I noted the interactivity on cable TV, to tell you the truth, I have never experienced it before because the TV set in my home, an analog one, is not equipped with the function. It sounds like an armchair theory, no matter how eagerly I discuss interactivity. The proverb gSeeing is believingh holds true in telecommunication study.
Finally, I would like to mention my learning and career goal for my Telecommunication MA. My academic objective is to get my masterfs degree in telecommunications Studies to enhance my knowledge and professional skills. Although I had worked as a director for NTV, one of Japan’s national TV networks for about 10 years, recent changes in the broadcasting industry and my own conviction that the globalization of Japan’s TV networks is an inevitability have convinced me that I need to broaden my knowledge base. The industry’s organization will drastically change, and therefore the way business is conducted will become more complex. Already in Japan, Cable TV has gradually spread, and there are now several cable networks with some very attractive programming. Moreover, satellite-based digital broadcasting has just begun in December of last year. Further drastic and unprecedented changes are inevitable, and I feel I have been given the precious opportunity to witness the birth of a new era. The more I consider our strategy in the emerging era, the more I can visualize the incredible potential for growth. However, I must confess, I feel I lack a systematic and theoretical understanding of the industry’s changing environment, and this is the primary reasons I have decided to study telecommunication in the U.S. From its origins, the Japanese broadcasting industry has been deeply affected by its American counterpart. We have consistently followed the U.S. lead whether in the move from black and white to color, the mimicking of content, or the use of the latest technologies. If I were able to do an in depth study of the present organization of the TV industry in the U.S., I would be better equipped to map out a network strategy for Japan.
In addition, the U.S. is a leader in the globalization of media, and this is an area connected with my career goal. I am especially interested in the globalization of TV networks because I hope to participate in the international strategy division in media after receiving my master degree. It is my goal to learn as much as possible about how the American TV industry managed to enter and thrive in various regional markets, while at the same time dealing with the broadcast policies of other countries. This is an area which Japan will soon have to deal with and I would like to be prepared to make a dynamic contribution. As satellite-based digital broadcasting can be viewed throughout East Asia, Japanese TV networks have the potential to become major players in this region, where Japanese pop culture is widely accepted and extremely popular. I am presently inspired to research the following questions: what kind of program shall we broadcast in this region? Moreover, what are the best strategies for entering and prospering in this market? I do not have specific answers now, but I feel I will have them after analyzing the international strategy of American TV networks.
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